Tag Archives: Germany

Remembering the Past: 1,000 Year Reich Ends With Hitler’s Suicide on 30 April 1945

U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler's death, 2 May 1945 Public Domain
U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler’s death, 2 May 1945
Public Domain

Since early 1945, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his closest staff had been living in a bunker 55 feet below the chancellery in Berlin. The 18-room bunker was self sufficient with its own electricity and water. Even then it was not comfortable but with Soviet troops threatening to siege Berlin, it was prudent to take cover. Between allied bombings and Soviet infantry moving in, things looked bad. It was clear to many in the German military and those close to Hitler such as Göring and Himmler, that the war was over.

This was not how it was supposed to end for Hitler. He started out in small and obscure group called Deutsche Arbeiterpartie (German Workers Party) that was formed in the aftermath of World War I in Munich. He joined in September 1919 and in 1920 delivered an impassioned speech that the party adopt Twenty-Five Points that would strengthen its purpose and attract new members. It succeeded and the name was changed to National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) or its more common and now infamous acronym Nazi.  Fusing nationalism and socialism along with a strong virulent dose of anti-semitism, the party attracted a following. Hitler was a particularly charismatic speaker who knew how to draw in his audience. Members of the old establishment (nobility, wealthy industrialists, and the military) were not won over right away. The Communists* were completely opposed to Hitler as were the worker’s unions.

In 1923 Hitler and the Nazis attempted to seize power in the Beer-Hall Putsch in Munich. It would fail but the headlines it generated would make both Hitler and the Nazi Party well known to all Germans. And it taught a young Hitler an important lesson about taking power. He learned that taking power by direct action would not work and changed the focus to winning elections. And most importantly gaining support of wealthy industrialists and members of the old aristocracy. By 1930 the Nazi Party was now a major party and gaining followers. The September 1930 elections saw them gain 107 out of 577 seats in the Reichstag. In the presidential election of 1932, Hitler received 13.7 million votes for president. Hindenburg still won but the Nazi Party was gaining momentum. In July they gained 230 out of 680 seats in the Reichstag but the November elections saw them lose seats (34). Since the center and right parties still had the majority, only a coalition government could be formed. The Communists, by contrast, had gained seats in that election.

Hitler, after negotiations with other right and center parties and gaining key support from industrialists and military, would become Chancellor on 30 Jan 1933. The die was now cast with the Nazi Party now in command. Hitler and the party would quickly reorganize government so that every facet was under their control from newspapers to labor unions. Jews would be dismissed from all government positions, all non-state schools closed (that included religious schools and ones that trained for the priesthood), the formation of the Gestapo and much more would take place. In a rigged election in November, an astonishing 93 percent of the vote was cast for the Nazi Party. After the death of President von Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler would declare himself Fuehrer in accordance with the Fuehrer Prinzip outlined in Mein Kampf. Democracy, what little of it was left in Germany at this time, was kaput. He was now the ruler of Germany and everything flowed from top to bottom. For the next decade Germany would be built up ready to take what it wanted from the West. Hitler learned the leaders of Great Britain and France were so afraid of another general war they would do just about anything to avoid it. Which is why he was so successful in getting key concessions without any fighting at all. Eventually after his annexation of Austria and his threats on Poland spurred Britain and France to draw the line. But it was too late. And the French failed to act when the German army was in the east invading Poland. The rest, as they say, is history.

Germany would conquer its share of Poland (the other half was under Soviet control). Then would pivot west and take all of Western Europe above Spain to Sweden. At one point Germany ruled completely from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia. It sought to take control of North Africa. With Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany, most of Europe would be under authoritarian rule. Only Switzerland as a neutral state remained free as did Sweden. Germany would invade the Soviet Union in 1941 and declare war on the U.S. after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. At the early stage it was believed they would defeat Stalin and focus all of their energies to prevent the allies any success. And many believed Hitler would win it and negotiate a grand peace in the end. However the invasion that took place on 6 June 1944 would make many Germans realize that things had changed for the worse. And by May 1945,most of Europe had been liberated from German rule. Italy had been liberated by the allies and Mussolini dead. The Soviet Union suffered terribly under the German occupation and now were getting their revenge. Stalin had hoped Hitler would bring about the ruin of the west. It did not work out that way but the Soviet Union would dominate Poland, the Balkan States, and Central Europe for a very long time afterwards.

Hitler would commit suicide with his new wife (and former mistress) Eva Braun. They poisoned themselves and their dogs. Hitler would shoot himself to make sure he would not be captured alive. Their bodies would be cremated and on 8 May 1945 Germany would unconditionally surrender. So ended the life of one Adolf Hitler, former painter, soldier, and eventually the leader of one of the most ruthless states ever created. The six million victims of the fanatical desire to eliminate Jews stand testament to the evil that man can create. His book, Mein Kampf, sadly though is gaining new popularity primarily in the bookstores in Turkey and the Middle East. And inspiring new evils.

*Although opposed to Hitler and Nazi Party, the German Communist Party was ordered by Stalin to stand down in opposing Hitler. Stalin believed Hitler’s war with the West would so damage them they would be ripe for invasion. This led him into believing that a pact with Germany dividing up Poland would give Hitler the free hand he needed to war with the West. He totally misunderstood Hitler and was caught unprepared when Germany invaded in 1941.

Sources:
Allen, William Sheridan. The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945. Brattleboro, VT:Echo Point Books. 2014
Engleman, Bernt. In Hitler’s Germany. New York: Schocken Books. 1986.
Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. 1960.
Snyder, Lewis L. Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Marley & Company. 1976.

Today in History:The Infamous Munich Pact

By 1938 there was no doubt anymore about the intentions of Germany’s Third Reich and Adolf Hitler. European nations were generally worried about a major war and to that end the two biggest powers in Europe: France and Great Britain, sought to avert it. It was based on the experience of the First World War in which millions had died. The aftermath of that war was a sentiment that total war must be averted at all costs. So far all of Hitler’s violations of treaties, such as occupying the Rhineland in 1936, had caused no major retribution even if it was a major violation of the Treaty of Versailles that Germany had agreed to in 1918.

In spring 1938, Hitler claimed that German-speaking people living in Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia wanted closer ties with Germany and began agitating that unless this was done it would be taken by force. Hitler claimed that this region was part of a Greater Germany. Needless to say, the Czechoslovakian government was concerned. Hitler had annexed Austria in 1938 and he might just do the same to Sudeten. Czechoslovakia had a pact with both France and Great Britain to come to its defense. Neither power was interested in having to defend Czechoslovakia on the battlefield. Both Britain and France sought to avoid a war and both agreed, without bothering to consult with the Czechoslovakians, they would give Hitler what he wanted. The deal was that in areas of fifty percent or more German Sudetens would go to Germany.

Hitler though, sensing he could get a lot more, wanted to put German soldiers in Sudeten and that Czechoslovakian army had to leave by 28 Sept 1938. This caused a crisis resulting in the Munich Conference of 29 Sep 1939. In attendance were British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, French premier Édouard Daladier, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini presented a plan (that imitated a German proposal) which allowed German military occupation and an international commission to resolve disputes. It was formally agreed to on 30 Sep 1938. Czechoslovakia was presented with this agreement and had no choice but to accept or face immediate invasion. Chamberlain would get Hitler to sign a treaty and proclaim later, upon arrival in Britain, that he delivered “peace for our time.”

Aftermath
Germany acquired not only territory but the industrial resources that it needed (raw ore, steel and iron production, electrical plants). Czechoslovakia was diminished as a result. While many in public in Britain and France heralded the agreement as avoiding war, there were warnings it was wrong. Winston Churchill was critical of the deal and how they had abandoned Czechoslovakia to Hitler. The British Labor Party opposed the deal as well. A view began to emerge and would continue long after, that Britain and France wanted to get out of the military pact as they were not ready for war. Was Hitler bluffing or not also is discussed as well. The evidence is that Germany could have invaded but got what it wanted without firing a shot. And it was handed to Hitler on a platter by two powers that in the last war had been Germany’s enemies. It could not have been a greater present for Hitler.

Czechoslovakia was doomed by the pact. In October 1938, it was forced to hand over under the Vienna Award territory in its south to Hungary and a small concession to Poland. In March 1939, after Slovakia seceded to become a pro-German state, Hitler demanded Czechoslovakia accede to German occupation, which it did. Czechoslovakia then became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Churchill’s warning had come true. With his policy of appeasement now deemed a total failure, Neville Chamberlain realized that it was time to mobilize for war. The French would likewise make preparations (but so entrenched was the avoidance of total war doctrine failed to act when it had the option to do so when most of the German army was invading Poland). In September 1939, World War II would officially begin with the invasion of Poland and declaration of war by Britain and France on Germany.

The lesson of the Munich Pact is that making short term deals with dictators to gain a moment of peace comes at a high cost. The Czechs were abandoned by Britain and France to their fate because neither one wanted to stand up to Hitler. Both Chamberlain and his French counterpart would live to see how badly it would turn out. After war broke out,  Chamberlan’s popularity fell and would resign on 10 May 1940 and replaced by Winston Churchill though remained in the Cabinet. He would die in November 1940. Édouard Daladier, who was under no illusions as to Hitler’s goals (but knew support for standing up to Hitler was thin),had resigned his position in March 1940 but was still minister of defense when Germany invaded. He would be arrested and charged with treason by the German supported Vichy government and imprisoned. He would be imprisoned in several places, including the Buchenwald concentration camp and ended up in Itter Castle in Tyrol with other French dignitaries until liberated on 5 May 1945 after the Battle of Itter . He would return to the Chamber of Deputies after the war, served as mayor of Avignon, and died in Paris in 1970.